“We cannot lose this seat. It is a moral imperative,” said candidate Lerah Lee, a local educator. “We are living in the twilight zone and we are going to a place where, if we don't keep this seat red, we will not go back.”
The 7th District covers most of Gwinnett County, which has shifted dramatically toward Democrats in recent election cycles, as well as part of more conservative Forsyth County.
The seat produced the closest congressional race in America in 2018, with Woodall winning reelection over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by just over 400 votes.
Woodall announced in February he wouldn't be seeking reelection in 2020, and a flurry of Republicans have since stepped up to vie for his seat.
They include state Sen. Renee Unterman, who is the only candidate to have held elected office before and hasn’t been shy about pointing it out.
“I have been at the state Capitol fighting Stacey Abrams for years,” she said Monday.
Other candidates who participated in the packed-house forum included Lee; Duluth teacher Lisa Babbage; real estate investor Mark Gonsalves; ex-Home Depot executive Lynne Homrich; emergency room doctor Rich McCormick; former Atlanta Falcon Joe Profit; and Jacqueline Tseng, the Gwinnett GOP’s secretary and a Cambodian refugee.
“I lived in concentration camps, labor camps and refugee camps,” Tseng said. “We need to secure that border wall. Our immigration system needs to be safe, legal and fair. I know what the back of the line looks like, and I know what works and what doesn't.”
As part of a "rapid fire" round of questions, candidates were asked if they live in the 7th District. Gonsalves and Homrich admitted that they do not.
Gonsalves later clarified that he lives “a few hundred yards” outside the district. Homrich — often derided by Unterman as “that Buckhead lady” — has previously said that she has started renting a home in the district.
While Unterman touted her conservative voting record, others said their outsider status was a good thing.
“We need different people in Washington that are red, white and blue to their core,” Babbage said.
Said Homrich: “I've never been in politics. In fact I hate politics. I come from the business world where things like accountability and results matter.”
On the other side of the aisle, about half a dozen other Democrats will be pursuing the 7th District nod. They include Bourdeaux; state Sen. Zahra Karinshak; state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero; former Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves; and local political activist Nabilah Islam.
Whoever comes out of each party, the 2020 race will likely be another tight one. And the Republicans know it.
“At the end of the day, one of these candidates come out of this,” Gwinnett GOP chairman Edward Muldrow said Monday. “And then we need to get behind them and make it happen.”